When was the last time you intentionally sought out stillness?
How did it feel? I bet you’re getting uncomfortable just thinking about it!
Maybe it felt nice for a moment, but then what happened after that tranquil exhale? You probably — and almost instantly — sought to fill up the time. Whether it was just mentally or even literally, you probably started to fill up that time because you were beginning to feel pretty uncomfortable doing nothing.
That’s okay, you’re not alone. Almost everyone has a similar reaction to one degree or another. In fact, some people, with a condition known as sedatephobia, get a full blown panic attack when they encounter silence!
But thanks to the demands of our families, our work, the little pings on our phones, and culturally-driven desire to achieve and not get left behind, most of us just can’t fathom the indulgent luxury of stillness.
And yet, the rewards of seeking silence abound, and perhaps are not so luxurious after all.
In fact, research has shown that stillness can deliver a wealth of benefits, including:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Decreasing cortisol and adrenaline
- Improving creativity
- Increasing self-awareness and sensitivity
- And even increasing brain plasticity and neurogenesis
In fact, a 2013 study found two hours of silence creates new cells in the hippocampus! Now that’s worth remembering!
Still, we all seem to have plenty of excuses for why we can’t be still.
I Don’t Have Time to Be Still!
It has become our societal refrain when it comes to stillness: we simply do not have time for it.
But is that really true?
Probably not. The real issue is that silence creates an opportunity for anxiety to bubble up, so we naturally try to avoid it.
The pressure to perform at a certain level, the fear of what we don’t know, the fear of sitting and experiencing our emotions (this is huge), and our modern distraction-addiction all feed this anxiety.
From the moment we wake up, we seem to be running, focused almost exclusively on what’s coming next or whatever is distracting us at the moment. We are focused on anything but the moment at hand.
And society has rewarded this behavior.
We get off on being busy.
It makes us feel important, accomplished, and as though we’re getting something done. Most dangerously, this cycle intensifies in times that we feel uncertain and insecure about our work, relationship, or personal experiences.
The desire to control everything we can get our paws on (and even those things we can’t) causes us to cling relentlessly to this need to strive and do — anything to avoid the uncertainty.
And so we find ourselves filling up our precious full-of-possibility moments with noise.
This filling-up of our moments comes in many forms, such as checking our devices, clearing emails, taking on more projects, procrastinating, doing busy work, ruminating, or indulging in less-than-helpful habits.
And then, when we find ourselves with a moment to pause, we don’t.
We don’t choose the stillness. Instead, we pick up our phone and scroll or we turn on our favorite show. We make it our business to fill the void with noise.
So do we have time for stillness? Yes, of course. We are just spending that time frivolously.
Letting Go to Find the Stillness in Your Life
Ultimately, we are our own source of the problem. We bombard our minds, disrupt our routines, and fill our living environment with physical and emotional noise and stimulation.
But you can change that.
Still, this is obviously a deep-rooted issue, and simply meditating for ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes, by itself, isn’t going to create lasting change. (Which, by the way, is why so many people download but don’t end up sticking with those meditation apps.)
So then what’s the cure? Well first, you need to become more comfortable with uncertainty and recognize that it doesn’t equal danger, disaster, or doom. Even in the most uncertain times, you can still find time for stillness.
In fact, when you change the way you look at it, uncertainty opens up a world of possibilities and offers the opportunity for creation and transformation. It is untrodden territory that creates an opportunity for growth.
And while you may be able to rationalize that concept, your neural circuitry is tightly wound around the control, noise, and need for achievement that the world feeds it.
And that’s where understanding the true essence of stillness, and developing a love for it, comes into play.
Making Stillness a Part of Your Life
Embracing this idea of being still is critical. First, it helps you break free from the constant flow of distractions. Second, it helps you break out of this uncertainty-induced cycle.
But to do that, you need to force yourself to lean into it and, if need be, force yourself into a periodic state of stillness.
Give yourself at least half an hour each day to unplug. You can start a balneotherapy practice (mindful soaking in a tub!), take a technology-free walk, meditate, or just sit on a bench or in the grass out in the park. Any of them are a great start.
Here are four simple steps to get you going.
It doesn’t need to be in a traditional meditation-esque cross-legged “pose.” Rather allow yourself to nestle into the experience of suspension, without any expectation of what this stillness IS, just observe what your mind does as time goes by.
Notice as it’s tempted to calculate and ruminate. You may even feel guilty for wasting time. That’s ok. When your mind does wander, lovingly draw it back to experiencing stillness.
Each time you draw your mind back to the stillness, you will be strengthening your mindfulness muscle — and strengthening your relationship with the uncertainty that may make you feel as though this stillness isn’t allowed.
Once your thirty or sixty minutes is up, notice how you feel. How is your heart rate and breathing? How does your mind feel?
I must warn you, it will not be easy at first. In fact, it’s going to be very hard. If you are finding that thirty or sixty minutes is too hard, then maybe start out with just ten.
Over time, this practice of stillness will help you break free of the need for constant stimulation. You will become comfortable with embracing those serendipitous moments of pause. And, you will transform your relationship with uncertainty as you grow more comfortable with it and no longer feel that you must constantly respond to it.
Most importantly, you will find that falling love with stillness will become a gift to yourself as it, almost ironically, creates more time and space for possibilities, for change and growth, and for greater peace.